Rice enters season under pressure

For the last three years, Darius Rice has been the man on the Hurricanes. He has been the man the team looked to for the big play, and the man criticized when the team failed.

This year, as a senior, Rice will try to take the ‘Canes to new heights and show everyone that he is one of the best players in the nation.

Rice, a Mississippi native, could work his way into the NBA lottery with a solid season. His 6-10 frame is appealing to NBA teams, especially since he has shown the ability to shoot from the perimeter. Rice led the ‘Canes last season with 18.7 points per game, and in the preseason, he has scored 34 and 26 points in the two exhibition games.

“I’ve worked hard this summer to try to make my teammates better, myself better and to try to become a lottery pick,” Rice said. “That’s the name of the game to try to go to the next level, you want to be in the lottery, so I have really worked hard to get myself there.”

Rice has always been a team player, and is quick to deflect credit away from himself and toward his teammates. He knows he is the leader of the team, but that doesn’t downplay the role of his teammates.

“I never say the offense runs too much through me, if you are a good player, you always want the plays to run through you,” Rice said. “We have a lot of guys who can take the load off me this year, so if they double or triple team me, the other teams better watch out because we have a lot of scorers besides me this year.”

Rice comes from a family of athletes. His uncle, Jerry, is one of the greatest players in National Football League history. Rice talks to his uncle almost every week.

“I talk to Jerry every week, we don’t really get into what I am doing too much, he asks me how the games been and everything,” Rice said. “They have been losing this year so he hasn’t been real happy. We just talk about how life is going, instead of sports.”

Rice has improved drastically from his freshman season. He became stronger and developed an inside game to complement his perimeter shooting. Versatility is something that Rice prides himself on.

“I try to bring versatility, inside or outside, wherever I need to play and against whoever,” Rice said. “The match-up is pretty hard for anyone because if they are small, I am going inside and if they are big, I can do it outside.”

Despite his successes on the court, Rice remains extremely modest. He knows he still has areas that he needs to improve on in order to take his game to the next level.

“I need to get better at ball handling and get bigger,” Rice said. “I think I’m a lot stronger than I was a couple years ago and I just need to keep rounding out my game overall.”

One of the common criticisms of Rice has been that he does not play defense. His defense has come a long way, however, and he has become one of the best defensive players on the team.

“I feel like I can guard one through five, it’s really not a big deal anymore. A couple years ago, I would have said I can only guard one position, so I’ve really improved in that regards,” Rice said.

Despite the team’s losing record last season, Rice does not let that influence his game or his goals. He believes in himself and more importantly, he believes in his teammates and their abilities. His goal for the season is to win the national title.

“I want to win a national championship, I don’t have any rings and that’s my main goal right now,” Rice said.

The draft position of Darius Rice is still up in the air. As the season progresses, however, the draft picture may become clearer. Rice doesn’t particularly care what spot he is drafted in, but he does have a preference of where he wants to play.

“I really don’t care, but I am from Mississippi, so it is all about location to me,” Rice said. “I don’t want to go too far from home, so Atlanta to Memphis, anywhere in that area would be great. Anywhere they take me would be fine, I will go wherever, but I’d like to stay close to home for at least a couple years so my family can come see me easily.”